A message of hope for South Philly’s Mexican community was formally unveiled Wednesday with a mural and poem, To Love the Soul of the Sea. The words and images acknowledge the challenges of the pandemic but also express faith that residents will overcome hard times.
Local author Carlos José Pérez Sámano’s poem is now permanently part of the new mural on the patio wall of Alma del Mar, a Mexican-owned seafood restaurant in the Italian Market.
The work was dedicated Wednesday to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day.
Pérez Sámano, 35, said he was inspired to write the poem while he was dining at the restaurant earlier this year. Alma del Mar, located on Ninth Street near Carpenter Street, opened three months ago, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Acknowledging the good that the sea can bring, the words of the poem include this message: “Each shadow has a storm of light. A glass of water feeds you with peace and salt.”
Pérez Sámano said the project became a collaborative effort when his friends — artist César Viveros and community journalist Édgar Ramírez — told him it was an opportunity to remind everyone that “life is full of cycles that work like the waves of the sea that, at times, wash away the good and wash away the bad.”
Pérez Sámano said the poem, painted in light blue on the patio wall, was the first time he had combined literature and visual art for a permanent installation. Previously, he had worked on the Philly Street Art “Fill the Walls with Hope” project, a volunteer effort to place inspirational posters throughout the city.
“You know, literature can be a path to understand reality, and here we want to subtly acknowledge that hope is not a sentiment we share but a responsibility we have with one another — to provide hope,” he said.
Viveros, who created the To Love the Soul of the Sea mural, has been involved in the Philadelphia arts scene for 20 years. He was not present at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Jennifer and Tony Wolf, from Newtown, Bucks County, said they have visited Alma del Mar for lunch at least eight times in the past three months. On Wednesday, unaware of the project, the couple said they were thrilled to see both the artwork and the recognition of the restaurant.
“It’s lovely and refreshing to see a mural that combines literature with a sense of community,” said Jennifer Wolf.
Alma Romero de Tlacopilco, 44, the co-owner of Alma del Mar, said she was honored that her experience starting the restaurant with her husband, Marcos, “was used to represent the entire Mexican community’s constant hard work and dreams of a better future.”